April 30, 2010

Ironman Race Report

How do you go about finishing off a season which has included the following schedule:

1. Triple Challenge
2. WP Triathlon Trials
3. Double Century
4. Epic Unsupported 7 day event
5. Totalsports Challenge
6. Xterra
7. Lighthouse to Lighthouse 2 day event
8. WP Triathlon Champs
9. Sani2c 3 day event
10. Cape Epic 8 day event

Well, you go race a 3.8km swim, 180km bike ride and a 42.2km run, commonly known, not as “insanity” but as “Ironman”. Its no wonder that song “Infitiny” rings so popular with the Ironman crew. The training is infinity, the day goes quickly, like the song. The entire day feels like 4 minutes, so for me to write it into an essay of sorts is tough but it forces me to go back to be there.

I was having a conversation with a particular gentleman this morning about how I go about my day at Ironman. He was amazed to hear that I don’t take lap splits on the bike, that I don’t take a speedometer on the bike and that I don’t take kilometer splits on the run.

The day for me is lived totally in the moment, zen’d out in hopefully a fast way where my body goes into an autopilot mode.

Yes, I push the entire day (witnessed in reflection by seeing my average heart rate was around 155 beats a minute for 9 hours) in a very controlled way. I have taken 3 years to teach my body to blow out energy like a slow puncture in a tube inflated too much. I tight and strong at the start of the day, even the entire bike. I lose air pretty quickly on the run and there is always a chance that I might slash the tube completely along the way somewhere.

We never know entirely how our bodies will react to the stress we place them under. That, my friends, is part of the excitement.

So when I tentatively stood at my bike at around 5:30am on race morning inflating my tires, I told myself to hold back all day, to make sure I left something for the last lap of the run. I was overcome with the sensations of love and joy and respect for all the nervous faces around me ready to partake in their own battles out there. I knew I was going to hurt. No long runs in the last 8 weeks before the race meant I was one bullet short of a full clip. I had to either go hard until I fell apart or play the waiting game. Being myself, I took the proactive approach, hating waiting, and went in with the following plan:

1. Swim smart
2. Bike steady
3. Run till you blow

I knew I was going to blow. I was prepared to hurt like I had never hurt before.

The morning was great. I stood at the gates with my fretten, smiling about the amazing year of racing we had done so far. We were both excited that we had made it to the last day. By now we are so finely tuned to race starts I can’t tell you what music played, what the sand felt like, or what the air smelt like. I can merely tell you that when I stepped on the beach, my heart rate rose 10 beats and I settled into a calm. It was only 10 minutes to go and then…

BANG! the gunshot went off and there were arms and legs everywhere. The pace at which people set off was stupid. Nerves, it seems, know no boundaries when it comes to throwing common sense out the window.

Thrashing through the uber choppy water to the first buoy I found a nice set of feet on an easily recognizable body without sleeves on the wetsuit. Nice. Pace was perfect and I was able to bilateral breathe and watch those around me. I missed the front pack, but was happy with that. I had not swum enough to justify a swim in their pack anyway. I tried to keep my stomach empty of sea water and was rolled around 360 degrees in one wave, which was fun.

Out the water lap 1 and it said 25:12 which I was pretty happy with. I wanted 54min in total so could chill on lap 2 I thought. I found the exact same feet again at the first buoy again (woo hoo!) and just held comfy back to dry land, uneventful and stretching the arms in as easy a stroke as possible.

51:25 was hands and feet on land, with a big smile. The swim was more successful than I thought. Proof that my Orca Alpha suit is the bizniz. Seriously…

Into T1 giving the Aloha to everyone. Smiling, waving. It was time to get on the bike in my new kit, and take pieces of everyone with me. I wanted to take pieces of the important people along with me, and it all kinda fell into place in the week leading into the race.

Collin’s helmet, James’s eye wear, Andy’s running visor were all with me. I wore the Trion:z as a reminder of my mother who is a force of nature, 2 Puma stick-on tattoos for my sister and my dad. The green bar tape for my housemate, who puts up with my extremities with a smile. The “zen” sticker on my top tube to remind me to breathe. I rode with the purpose of the Austrian Iceberg and was reminded often of all these people along the day.

I decided to make hay whilst the sun was shining on the bike ride. I wanted to bike evenly, smoothly, within a pack of a few boys to make things a bit easier. The first 15km of every 60km are an uphill drag. My specialty and I made the most of it, passing some guys on the way up and holding back on water and Whasp until I got up there. From there on out it was steady until 15km to go when the wind was head on and quite powerful. I had by now been riding on my own since the top of the first hill and this would remain the story of the day, riding between 2 packs of 4-6 guys.

The ride was super steady. As the heat increased the wind dropped. I rode 1:38, 1:39, 1:39 for the 3 laps by the results (I had no idea) and this is testament to spending years honing the ability to reading my body well. I had no idea, I just rode by Suunto + Internal feeling.

Our new kit was amazing on the ride and I was excited to see how it would be received on the run as its quite out there in terms of design. It was well received, as was my foot pod, keeping me in check on lap 1. I was floating for the first few kilometers, but I knew this would be short lived. I was at some point, going to hurt like I had never hurt before. 20th off the bike meant I was in the hunt for a top 15. I thought to myself that this was already an amazing day, so I pushed a little harder to hold a steady pace at the back of the university (known as the dead zone due to lack of spectators out there) into the wind out there. By the end of lap 1 I was in 18th. I could see a few guys on the 4km out and back and thought why the hell not…

I held the pace. The support was amazing and I was taking it in for the Dead Zone where I knew things were going to get messy. I came around the bottom corner of the university to see my mate and hopeful winner of the day, James, walking, his stomach bug ending his day. I was gutted for him.

By the end of lap 2 I was told I was in 12th and had to chase, so I pushed to 11th by the 2km turn, 12km to go.

I realized about 500m later that chasing was done, that it was time to hold or walk. I was looking up a the clouds, head back, mouth open. Not ideal. My toes, feet, ankles, soleus, calves, knees, quads, hammies, glutes, shoulders, arms and hands were all pretty knocked out by this point, and I had to really focus to keep my jaw loose. My pace had dropped by a minute per kilometer almost immediately and I knew if I went any slower I was going to get caught.

I was at this point, first in my age group, but there was someone chasing hard.

That last trip through the Dead Zone. Wow. Immense toughness to get through there. I was broken into a million little pieces, barely hanging onto my pedestrian pace. I put one foot in front of the other, trying to keep my heart rate up. It was all falling apart in front of me and I had to control it with the precision of a Swiss timekeeper working frantically with a gun pointed to his head.

Coming around the bottom corner of the back of the varsity has to be one of the happiest moments of my life. 3km to go. the last 7 had been hellishly painful, more than I knew I could endure. I kept the poker face on and got the job done. I was, after all, not here for a haircut and some ice cream. This is the freaking Ironman boys and girls. We come here for this, to learn about our limits. To be taught lessons we will never forget.

Its awesome. Time to get the job done. 2km to go that autopilot kicked in and the first tear rolled down my cheek. I had to fight it hard. I was high fiving people from 2km out. I wanted this to last a while. I felt, for the first time, like I really deserved it, having worked incredibly hard for the last 6 months for these last 10min.

I got onto the blue mat and just stopped.

There was no pain.

There were tears.

There was jumping. Elation. Shouting.


I had goosebumps everywhere, I was in a state of elation that could only be described as Nirvana.

I walked over the finish line.

It was over.

There was a sunset, and a sunrise, and a few beers were had before 15 of us did the honorable thing to skinny dip at 3am after the afterparty, where we danced till our shoes came off.

Ironman is not about me. Its about you. Its about every other finisher. This is merely a small story. My story. About taking risks. About rewards.

I hope the story inspires you to take the chance, to make the leap.

Thank you.

A special thanks to all my sponsors is in order. I had the best out there, from Whasp Nutrition, Sport-X tabs, Luma Kit, Puma Shoes, Suunto Heart Rate Monitor, Rockets Compression gear and our amazing title sponsor, Fairbairn Private Bank, who made it all possible.

To Biosport and Line for working her magic with our tired legs all season.

To my fretten, who went 9:58 and a pb with a knee injury. You rock, bra.

To everyone who I came in contact with during the race. You lifted me on every occasion. You. Are. An. Ironman.

The story continues next week…

We are anything but done.

6 Comments on “Ironman Race Report

April 30, 2010 at 1:36 pm

hey mister,

just wanted to say that you’ve done an amazing job over the last year and congrats at ironman… you are a local precedent when ppl say that those “events” are too much in one year but you did it and you managed it so admirably 🙂

all the best on a well earned rest,


[the chick you mistook for needing babysitting ]

Urban Ninja
April 30, 2010 at 2:09 pm

nobody said you needed babysitting silly, I just said I dont babysit. thanks for the nice comment. anything is possible.

May 1, 2010 at 8:16 am

awesome story. you have a fantastic perspective.

you are inspiring my friend!

Clinton Summers
May 2, 2010 at 12:11 pm

Well done again Raoul, I enjoyed your race report makes ment want to try harder next year. Its a great event where you certainly learn a lot about yourself. One thing I know is that everyone struggles at some stage, but you have to stare the tiger in the eye and not let him get you down. Great race!

Urban Ninja
May 5, 2010 at 10:48 am

Thanks Clinton. I look forward to seeing you out there with grin on your chin…

May 3, 2010 at 12:58 pm

You & Brett deserve every minute of glory on that blue carpet. YOU WERE AWESOME!!!!!! What you guys accomplished this year is incredible. I’m just so thrilled for the 2 of you. And proud – because you tried


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